In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin American Jewish Studies

  • Introduction
  • The Formation of the Latin American Jewish Studies Field
  • The Colonial Period: Converts and Crypto-Judaism
  • Culture and Art
  • Terrorist Attacks in Argentina

Jewish Studies Latin American Jewish Studies
Alejandro Dujovne, Emmanuel Kahan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 January 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0190


The presentation of a comprehensive selection of academic texts in the field of Latin American Jewish studies, such as the one we develop here, requires considering a series of analytical challenges. The first one is epistemological in nature: when referring to a topic as “Latin American” it is not always kept in mind that this adjective comprises many countries, with very different histories and realities. Although there are historical, cultural, and linguistic common grounds that bring most of the countries in the region together, the differences between them are substantial. Only by contrasting this region with others, and through analytical or political enunciation, is it possible to construct it as a single unit. The same is true for Jewish history in the region. Although we can identify common elements that define a unique context for the development of Jewish life in Latin America, such as the historically most widespread religion—Catholicism—and the dominant languages and cultural backgrounds—Spanish and Portuguese—there are many particularities that differentiate historical experiences. The differences in size, degree of institutional development, and social and cultural visibility of the Jewish populations in the Latin American countries, present a second challenge for the current selection. Although we aimed to offer a balanced bibliographical overview of the region, the fact that Argentina, with the largest Jewish community, followed by Brazil and Mexico, has received much more attention from scholars, led us to an unavoidable bias imbalance. Finally, this selection faces a third challenge related to the publishing languages. This is directly associated with the places of academic production. In the cases in which we selected a Spanish or Portuguese-language book or article, we attempted to include the English version. However, most of the references are published only in Spanish or Portuguese. This piece begins with references that address the development of the Latin American Jewish studies field, and continues with the following topics: Converts and crypto-Jews in colonial America; immigration; the formation of communities and the dynamics of integration; Jewish political trends and Jewish participation in national politics; culture and art; Spanish and Portuguese-language literature, which includes an entry on Yiddish literature; women, prostitution, and gender; religion; anti-Semitism; Nazism and the Holocaust; the two bomb attacks in Argentina (Embassy of Israel in 1992 and the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina in 1994); and finally, the repressive actions of military dictatorships.

The Formation of the Latin American Jewish Studies Field

The origin and development of the modern Latin American Jewish studies field is closely linked to the work of two academic associations. The first, AMILAT, the Hebrew acronym for the Research Association on Latin American Judaism, was created in 1975 by researchers who had graduated from or belonged to the Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, directed by Professor Haim Avni since its founding in 1967. Most of the scholars that took part in the creation of this association were Latin Americans who had immigrated to Israel, many of them Argentine. The second organization is the Latin American Jewish Studies Association (LAJSA), founded in 1982 in the United States by professors at North American universities, some of them Latin American. These organizations were responsible for creating the main international forums on Latin American Jewish studies. Parallel to these umbrella organizations, there are a number of diverse institutional programs in the United States, Israel, and Latin America, particularly in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico. Latin American Jewish studies have three regular publications: Judaica Latinoamericana, Estudios Histórico-Sociales, a journal-book published by AMILAT every four years, which compiles a selection of works presented at the Latin American section of the World Congress of Jewish Studies, the biannual digital journal of the Núcleo Interdisciplinar de Estudos Judaicos e Árabes (Interdisciplinary Group of Jewish and Arab Studies) of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, and Cuadernos Judaicos, the annual digital journal of the Centro de Estudios Judaicos of the Universidad de Chile. There are also at least two book series, both directed by Raanan Rein, historian of the University of Tel Aviv. One in Spanish, at Lumiere, an Argentine publishing house, and the second in English, at Brill. The rest of the production is channeled through different types of specialized journals, and in a diverse range of book imprints. The dominant languages are English and Spanish, followed by Portuguese and Hebrew. One auspicious sign of the development of Latin American Jewish studies has been the emergence of a stimulating epistemological debate, started in Brazil by sociologist Bernardo Sorj, and expanded by historians Raanan Rein, from Tel Aviv University, and Jeffrey Lesser, from Emory University. These researchers, along with others who have participated in this debate, have encouraged the renewal of topics and perspectives of analysis, focusing on questions seldom addressed, such as tensions and power differentials within communities, the role of women, Sephardic communities and individuals, non-affiliated Jews, and Latin American Jews who live in other countries, among others. They have also suggested the need to adopt comparative perspectives that allow Jews to be contrasted with other ethnic groups, as well as between countries.

  • Bokser Liwerant, Judit, Sergio Della Pergola, Haim Avni, Margalit Bejarano, and Leonardo Senkman. “Cuarenta años de cambios: transiciones y paradigmas.” In Pertenencia y alteridad. Edited by Haim Avni, Judit Bokser Liwerant, Sergio DellaPergola, Margalit Bejarano, and Leonardo Senkman, 13–83. Madrid: Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2011.

    DOI: 10.31819/9783954872794-002

    This introductory chapter systematizes some debates in the field and analyzes transdisciplinary approaches and transnational perspectives for addressing Jewish issues in Latin America.

  • Laikin Elkin, Judith. Origins of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association, 1982–1995. 2016.

    This extensive article presents a historical and personal overview of the first thirteen years of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association (LAJSA), told by the association’s main proponent and first president. This document is of value given both the information it contains and the description it provides of how this organization was created and developed. Available online.

  • Lesser, Jeffrey, and Raanan Rein. “New Approaches to Ethnicity and Diaspora in Twentieth-Century Latin America.” In Rethinking Jewish-Latin Americans. Edited by J. Lesser, and R. Rein, 1–22. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008.

    This chapter synthesizes the discussion that both authors encouraged in different papers and lectures, which contributed to expanding the agenda of topics and partially redefining the analytical perspectives from which the Jewish experience in the region was understood. This text proposes an interesting critical review of what it considers that have been the dominant approaches and the gaps, and thus proposes a new scientific program that should encourage to reorient research work.

  • Lindstrom, Naomi. “Recent Tendencies in Latin American Jewish Studies, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary.” Journal of Jewish Studies 19.3 (2001): 23–32.

    An introduction to and an assessment of the field of Latin American Jewish studies. Although scholarly production has grown steadily since the publication of this article, it contains valuable information to understand the development of this field.

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